Thousands at Former South African President Mandela's Memorial - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Thousands at Former South African President Mandela's Memorial

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South Africa, and the world, are remembering former South African President Nelson Mandela. Some 90,000 people gathered at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, for a memorial that will bring together world leaders, celebrities, and friends of the anti-apartheid icon.


In what has been billed as one of the largest gatherings of global leaders in recent history, world leaders from President Barack Obama to Cuba's Raul Castro gathered alongside street sweepers, actors and religious figures to paid tribute to the revered statesman who died last Thursday, aged 95.

"The world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us," President Obama said.

Despite the heavy rain, the atmosphere inside the stadium was celebratory, with people dancing, blowing "vuvuzela" plastic horns and singing songs from the anti-apartheid struggle.
  The four-hour service, coinciding with U.N. Human Rights Day, is the centerpiece of a week of mourning and was expected to bring much of South Africa to a stop.

 It began with the national anthem before South Africa's presidents -- past and present -- were introduced. 
    Then speeches from Mandela's family, friends as well as a fellow Robben Island prison inmate began. 
Anguished faces listened quietly as a sorrowful chant to "Tata Madiba" filled the air. 
     "Tata" means "father" in Mandela's Xhosa tribe.

      There were loud cheers for President Obama, who like Mandela was his nation's first black president. He has cited Mandela as his own inspiration for entering politics.

 "To the people of South Africa -- people of every race and every walk of life -- the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us," he said in his speech.

 In addition, the presidents of Brazil, Namibia, India, Cuba and South Africa were also expected to speak at the service.

Tight Security

With 91 heads of state attending, security was tight. Working off plans developed for years in secret, the South African government is using an elite military task force, sniper teams and canine teams to help secure the stadium, CNN's Arwa Damon reported Monday. In addition, helicopters and military jets frequently fly overhead.

 "Should anybody, anything dare to disturb or disrupt this period of mourning and finally taking and accompanying the former president to his last resting place, then that person will be dealt with," Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga said Monday.

South African officials won't give details about their security plans -- how many police officers, how many troops, precautions to keep the stadium weapons- and explosives-free.

 "But we can assure that all necessary steps have been taken, and that is why the leadership of the world and former leaders of the world have confidence to come to our country at this time to share with us this moment," said Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane.


While Tuesday's memorial is the first major event honoring Mandela since his death, it won't be the last.
  A state funeral will be held Sunday in Mandela's ancestral hometown of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.


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